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Open this photo in gallery:Sensei Porcupine Creek - Palm Springs Hotel / Hospitality / Resort

Sensei Porcupine Creek in Rancho Mirage, Calif.Tanveer Badal Photography

There’s a moment at Sensei Porcupine Creek, the ultraexclusive wellness resort tucked away in a residential corner of Rancho Mirage, Calif., where you almost feel you could be starring in your own sci-fi movie. You’re in a room surrounded by massive screens that alternate between scenes of infinite calmness and the results of your thorough physical while your guide – Trevor, in my case – speaks to you with the dulcet reassurance of HAL 9000. And just when you think the future looks bright … he tells you what your body fat percentage is, down to the decimal – and suddenly you don’t feel much like an astronaut any more.

If you’ve heard anything about the under-the-radar Sensei, it’s probably connected to its owner, Larry Ellison, the high-profile billionaire owner of Oracle and buyer of boats, jets and islands. It was on Lana’i, his 364-square-kilometre Hawaiian Islands perch, that he quietly rolled out his first Sensei, in partnership with the Four Seasons, just before the pandemic. It promised a new type of wellness resort, one where an Avengers-esque team of experts in fields such as nutrition, meditation and yoga had gathered to create a space where guests could learn tools to improve and extend their lives long after they left the resort. To help this wellness go down is an on-site Nobu crafting healthy fare and hectares of elaborate gardens to help one contemplate their journey.

The newly opened Southern California outpost is, if anything, more exclusive. Prior to it becoming Sensei Porcupine Creek, it was Ellison’s own private retreat, where he played host to the likes of Rafael Nadal while the tennis tournament he owns, the BNP Paribas Open, played out in nearby Indian Wells. Now, part of the Sensei stable, it has fewer rooms than Lana’i (22 versus 92, but admittedly some of those 22 “rooms” are entire houses) and once you enter through its massive mahogany gates, the bustle of the Coachella Valley quickly recedes thanks to its 93 secluded hectares.

And while Lana’i greets you with monumental sculptures by art-world superstars Fernando Botero and Jeff Koons dotted throughout the property, here it’s the huge sculpted numbers of Robert Indiana and a giant Yoshitomo Nara dog that welcome you as you drive in, which is the kind of variation people who can afford to stay here would take note of.

Yet for the most part, the ethos remains constant: Yes, you may be in the lap of luxury, but if you’re looking for unadulterated hedonism, you’ve come to the wrong place. You’re here to embrace and understand the Sensei “paths” of move, nourish and rest to better guide your wellness ship in the right direction.

Which leads us to Trevor and his softly spoken hard truths. Prior to my arrival, I had met with him on FaceTime to provide a sense of what my specific goals were. These can range from “live longer” to “improve your backhand” and both are approached with the same solemn focus by the Sensei team. For me, it centred on building a base to age more like George Clooney and less like Mickey Rourke. I had been wearing a Whoop biofeedback bracelet for a few weeks that had been providing the team with key markers about my sleep and activity patterns. And while it all sounds like a tech bro’s dream, the reality is that once on site most meetings with Trevor resembled gentle therapy sessions with him asking me questions such as, “Why do you feel the need to pick up your laptop first thing in the morning?” or “What’s preventing you from giving people your full attention when they speak with you?”

Open this photo in gallery:Larry Ellison wellness resort – Sensei  Porcupine Creek

Yoga Pavillion at Sensei Porcupine Creek.Noah Webb

My first morning starts with one of the multitudes of classes on offer. I choose the functional fascia course, where I get to know the true malevolence of a lacrosse ball firsthand, but I could have gone for a number of yoga classes, meditation or an early morning hike. They’re nominally group classes: The reality is that with so few guests even when the resort is full, there’s a good chance it will be just you and the instructor and that said instructor will be an expert enticed to move to the desert to be part of the Sensei mission.

The afternoon sees me hitting the tennis court with what I imagine will be some fun downtime but my coach, former Top 10 doubles player and French Open finalist Caroline Vis, has a different idea. Like a diagnostician, she quickly zeroes in on my numerous weaknesses, and the following hour is spent in religious repetition of the new form that will, I hope, elevate my game long after I leave.

I’m literally drenching the perfect hardcourts (built to the same exacting standards as nearby Indian Wells) with sweat, but there’s progress being made, a feeling underscored by Vis’s succinct closer, delivered with her clipped Dutch accent: “Better.”

It’s Day 1 and I’m spent, which is how I found myself sneaking off to the little-used 19th green of the golf course for an impromptu meditation class. I sit on a blanket, legs crossed, contemplating the changing colour of the surrounding mountains, while Sensei’s meditation guru reminds me to think about the ingress and egress of air from my lungs.

It’s all having its desired effect. Even as I dive into a predinner martini, I find myself being “present” – rotating the glass in my hand, focusing on the condensation droplets rolling down the side, swirling the gin in my mouth. Dinner (and breakfast and lunch) is served at the on-site Nobu, same as at Lana’i. And as the martini suggests, while there is a focus on health, a.k.a. the “nourish” pillar, indulgences are encouraged. The wine list is deep (and weirdly quite affordable) and while the menu skews heavily toward exquisite fish preparations, they’ll happily serve you steak if you so desire – it will just be lean tenderloin instead of marbled ribeye.

It’s arguably the best restaurant in the Coachella Valley, which makes it odd that I have the entire place to myself. This underscores another tenet of Porcupine Creek: The property is for resort guests only, period. Your uncle and aunt who live in La Quinta would like to stop by for lunch? “We’re very sorry sir.”

Open this photo in gallery:Larry Ellison wellness resort – Sensei  Porcupine Creek

Rates start at US$1,800 a night, with a three-night minimum.Noah Webb/Sensei Porcupine Creek

Open this photo in gallery:Larry Ellison wellness resort – Sensei  Porcupine Creek

Rates include two spa treatments over the course of your visit.Noah Webb/Sensei Porcupine Creek

And while that’s one thing with the restaurant, it’s quite another when it comes to the full-sized championship golf course on site, which routinely sees only a minuscule number of players on any given day. It leads to the surreal effect of having an entire golf course to oneself. “Replay holes if you like,” the pro tells me before I set out, “or skip ahead if you feel like it.” At Sensei even the ancient rules of golf succumb to re-examination.

And what price for all these superlatives? Rates start at US$1,800 a night, with a three-night minimum – a serious sum even in these inflationary times. But that includes two spa treatments over the course of your visit, which on their own are stratospherically priced at US$700 and up, as well as two one-on-one consultations and pre and post-trip follow-up sessions with your guide. The pricing at Nobu is expensive but no more than a dozen lesser spots in nearby El Paseo.

At Sensei, the pervading ethos of thoughtfulness sticks with you, which comes in handy as your trip ends and you’re suddenly, unfairly, back in the land of TGI Friday’s and people driving golf carts on the street. Traffic snarls, horns honk – but it’s nothing a little deep breathing can’t fix.

The writer travelled as a guest at Sensei Porcupine Creek, but not Sensei Lana’i, A Four Seasons Resort. Neither resort read nor approved the story before publication.